Celebrating Tony Rice: A Special Vinyl Reissue of ‘Church Street Blues’

Just over forty years ago, in 1983, Tony Rice’s fourth solo album Church Street Blues (Sugar Hill Records) showcased Rice’s electrifying flatpicking guitar work. At one with his instrument, Rice’s fingers danced up and down the frets, sliding effortlessly from note to note as glittering arpeggios tumbled down from heaven. His sparkling baritone vocals pulled emotional depth from the songs featured on the album. Church Street Blues influenced generations of musicians across all genres, but it is has been long out of print.

Until now.

On April 5, Craft Recordings celebrates Rice by reissuing Church Street Blues—cut from the original master tapes by Kevin Gray at Cohearent Audio—on vinyl. The reissued album gives fans yet another opportunity to hear Rice’s warm vocals sung over his graceful picking and strumming.

Although the Danville, Virginia-born Rice grew up playing bluegrass—joining J.D. Crowe and the New South when he was 20—Rice played with a variety of musicians from Clarence White to David Grisman and absorbed their styles in his own sparkling guitar work. On Church Street Blues Rice offers his intimate and innovative interpretations of traditional material such as “Cattle in the Cane” and “House Carpenter” as well as songs by Jimmie Rodgers (“Any Old Time”), Bob Dylan (“One More Night”), Tom Paxton (“Last Thing on My Mind”), and his friend and collaborator Norman Blake (“Orphan Annie” and “Church Street Blues”).

The title track opens the album, setting the tone for the rest of it. The song opens with Rice’s sinuous fingerpicking cascading like a waterfall, flowing beneath his smooth vocals. Rice’s layered guitar work weaves smoothly between the verses that find the singer busking on Nashville’s Church Street, dreaming of a different life. Crystalline lead runs propel the up tempo tune “Cattle in the Cane,” blending Django Reinhardt jazz stylings with jaunty nuances from bluegrass and folk, while the ambling sonic structure of “Streets of London” conveys the poignant character of the ballad, written by Ralph McTell.

“One More Night” jumps with the zest and jubilance of a front porch bluegrass ramble, while the animated fingerpicking on “The Gold Rush,” penned by Bill Monroe and Byron Berline, drives this classic tune, mimicking the urgency of those hastening to uncover some of the ore that would make them rich. The strolling blues “Any Old Time” illustrates Rice’s mastery of the bluesy jazz idiom. “Orphan Annie” once again highlights Rice’s intimate vocals and his effortless folk guitar stylings. Rice captures the yearning of Paxton’s “Last Thing on My Mind” with his sparkling picking and rhythm and his tender vocals.

Generations of pickers still speak of Rice as a guitarist’s guitarist, and this album conveys his soulful playing and his desire to preserve tradition through his innovation. It’s fair to say that many individuals picked up guitars for the first time when they heard Church Street Blues and tried to follow Tony Rice’s mellifluous meanderings. It’s also fair to say that this reissue of Church Street Blues is a real gift.


Church Street Blues is available HERE


“Church Street Blues”

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